Name the odd one out: Timothy Edmonds (convicted paedophile), Hussain Osman (convicted terrorist), Julian Assange (Wikileaks founder wanted for questioning by Swedish police) and Abu Hamza (Egyptian-born militant Islamist now facing terrorism charges in a New York court). Not too difficult – it’s Abu Hamza, who was extradited to the USA after an eight-year legal battle.
The other three are currently, or have been in the past, the subject of European arrest warrants. All of them, if Theresa May gets her way, would have been able to evade justice for as long as they could frustrate bilateral extradition arrangements (assuming any were in force).
May’s proposal is for the UK to opt out of 130 EU justice and policing measures and then to opt back in with those areas deemed to be politically expedient, a sort of a la carte crime-fighting. Opting back in will require all 26 member states to agree to our proposals and will probably cost the UK hundreds of millions. It seems fair to ask whether all states will readily accede to this and what will be their quid pro quo. This, after all, comes at the same time as the UK is seen as blocking an urgently-needed European banking union, as well as threatening to veto an enlarged EU budget. Whatever your view of these policies, anyone with experience of complex negotiations will tell you it’s the wrong moment to be picking fights.
Which points to an intriguing question– with Michael Gove and Phil Hammond already suggesting that the UK leave the EU and a significant proportion of the Tory cabinet in support of this idea, will the next general election effectively be the ‘in or out’ referendum, with Liberal Democrats and Labour on one side of the debate and the Tories on the other? Whilst Europhilia has never been popular in this country (whatever we Liberal Democrats might wish), the practical flaws in the “let’s just have free trade like Norway” argument would probably not survive the scrutiny of an election campaign (this is a huge topic, but the simple point is that there is no motive for the other 26 members of the EU to make it easy for us to negotiate an exit followed by a free trade deal). If the big question in 2015 turned out to be one on which we were aligned with Labour that might be good news for the Liberal Democrats. Then the Tories would be the odd ones out.